When I first got back into woodworking, there was a period where I scoured Ebay for hand planes. Along the way I picked up a Stanley Bailey #7, Type 11 jointer for $61.04. At the time, I thought it was a really good price. But with some experience behind me, the main reason it was so “affordable” was that the beaver tail on the rear tote was broken off.
Still, I didn’t give much thought to it…until I built my saw bench and used the #7 to dimension the legs.
I got a nasty blister in the webbing of my right hand for my efforts. You see, the tote break was smack-dab in just the right place to chew up my hand. And so the tote lay in that state for over a year. Then I came across a few articles on tote repair. One by Scott Grandstaff, another at RexMill.com and a third at George’s Basement. And while crafting a new beaver tail looked intimidating, I resolved to give it a shot.
Assessing the damage
I removed the tote to find that in addition to the missing beaver-tail section, there was also a clean break about one-third of the way from the bottom. I decided to address this first.
Repairing the break
The first attempt was rooted in the ole college try. After a gentle brushing of both sides to clear out any dust or gunk, I liberally applied wood glue. Then I reaffixed the handle to the plane body, using the tote bolt and nut as a vice of sorts.
The joint came apart in my hands when I tested it. Admittedly, I only let it sit for about an hour, but still, the repair did not hold. Epoxy it would be.
A picture in the RexMill article showed glue holes to reinforce a repair. Mimicking this technique, I drilled 1/8th inch holes about 1/8th inch deep in both sides of the break, then filled them with 5-minute epoxy and used the plane as a “clamp” as the whole kitten caboodle sat over night.
The next morning, the repair held firmly against my tests. During the glue-up, the tote halves had not lined up perfectly, so one side was a tinsy bit proud on the upper tote side and likewise a bit shy on the lower-tote side. I would deal with that during the refinishing stage.
This was the plan:
Complete a cut at the break that is perfectly flat and parallel to the tote handle bottom. This would make it easier to clamp up when the replacement block was glued to the top.
- Acquire and cut a wood blank that will form the beaver tail.
- Drill glue holes in the tote and wood block pieces, epoxy them and let it sit over night.
- Drill the bolt hole through the top of the wood block. Then drill the recess hole for the retaining nut.
- Layout and rough-shape beaver tail.
- Fine-tune shaping with small files and sandpaper.
1.–Prepping the broken tote area
The first step turned out to be pretty tricky. Grandstaff’s approach uses the table saw. He places the tote’s flat bottom against the fence and trims off the broken end of the tote parallel with the base. I don’t have a table saw. I also don’t have the balls to try that. What I do have is a router table.
I chucked a straight bit, held the flat base firmly to the fence and slowly fed the broken end from right to left with the spinning metal (spinning counterclockwise)…only to watch it catch the tote and launch it across the room. Hmmm. Thinking that it would be better (and you just know this sentence can only end well with a lead-in like that) to feed the wood into the rotating bit instead of with it, I tried making a pass from left to right. That too sailed across the room. As it turns out, I don’t have the balls to use this technique either.
Next up, a shooting board. I should have made a jig to hold the tote parallel to the shooting edge. Instead, I “eyeballed” it and proceeded to take small shavings off until the broken surface was smooth. It wasn’t perfect, but it was close enough to make it work.
To get the approximate size of the missing beaver tail as well as it’s orientation to the remaining tote, I printed out the Stanley #5 and UP plane tote template at Lee Valley.
Then I positioned the tote on the template so that its curves and front edge lined up with the template. The overall size didn’t match but I was looking for a general shape. Then I drew a horizontal line where cut tote ended…and sketched a block on the template that would be large enough to sculpt and shape the new beaver tail. From that, I determined the block’s dimensions.
Rooting about my scrap pile I pulled out a piece of red oak and cut it to size. But before gluing it to the tote, past experience told me to test the Minwax Wood Finish Jacobean 2750 stain Scott Grandstaff uses on it first. It was a good thing I did too, because the stain utterly failed to match the wood. The repair would have been flagrantly obvious and stuck out like a sore, yet un-blistered thumb.
Craftsmanship won out over convenience so I made the round trip to my closest woodworking store. Two hours and $5.50 later (that was before $4.00/gallon gas) I was studying a block of Indian rosewood sitting on my bench. It was a near-perfect color and grain match to my vintage tote.
I cut a blank from it. The rosewood was a pleasure to work with and threw off a scent like none I’ve experienced before.
3.—Prepare and glue tote-blank assembly
I placed the blank on my bench, then the tote “face down” on top of it. Then I traced the outline of the handle onto the blank. This gave me an oval outline to guide the drilling of 1/8″ wide and deep glue holes in the blank. The tote top received the same treatment. After applying 5-minute epoxy, the blank-tote assembly went into a wooden hand-screw clamp to dry over night.
4.—Drill bolt and recess holes through the tote
Before doing any shaping, I chose to drill the hole for the support rod that affixes the tote to the plane. I figured that the existing bolt hole would act as a guide for the bit shaft so that the tip would emerge through the top of the beaver tail blank.
Since I couldn’t find a 5/16th inch bit long enough to penetrate the 8 inches of tote plus blocked beaver tail material I opted for a slightly smaller Hitachi ¼” bit with a 12” shank.
I mounted the tote upside down in my vice as near to vertical as I could. Then chucked the ¼” bit and applied light pressure to drill the hole completely through the blank. Even so, the bit drifted a little before making its way through.
Next, it was time to drill the recess hole to accept the brass tote retaining nut. I would have preferred to use a 7/16″ forstner bit or even brad-point bit, but I didn’t have one. So I pulled out a 7/16″ flat bit.
Now the thing with these flat bits is that you’re going to get tearout. I chose to drill the recess hole now knowing that the shaping process would remove any tearout. With the tote in the vice, I placed the bit on the hole and applied slow, and light pressure downward until I felt the bit meet the original recess point. A chisel removed the epoxy that had settled on the bottom of the recess hole during the blank glue up.
5.–Layout and shaping
With the bolt hole and retaining nut recesses drilled it was time to shape the beaver tail.
I photocopied the template with my marking on it to help size the blank and then cut out the portion corresponding to the blank. This, I laid on the blank, lined up with the tote sides as a reference point. Then I used an Xacto knife to scribe the beaver tail shape onto the blank.
A lot of the waste was accounted for with a backsaw, being sure to leave at least 1/8″ of material outside the layout line for the shaping process.
There was still a lot of material. And even though the temperature was in the teens in my garage shop, I reached for a belt sander rather than slug it out by hand. I used this to shape the curl at the top of the beater tail. And to remove more material on the sides of the replacement block.
Then I broke out my rasps to shape the beaver tail. All the while I studied the totes on my #5 and #8 for guidance.
Next, I fired up the Dremel with a sanding drum to do fine shaping.
To finish the shaping, I used 80 grit sandpaper.
6.–Fine-tune shaping with small files and sandpaper.
At this point, the tote had an obvious repaired break near the base and an obvious replacement of the beaver tail. The next step, staining, would help cover these efforts but before I could apply the paint, it was time to sand.
I progressed through grits 100, 150, 200, 320 and 400. The courser grits were used to refine the shape of the new beaver tail and blend it in with the original tote. This sanding process also accomplished two more things. It blended the tote repair near the base to help mask the break, but you can see it if you’re looking for it. Sanding also removed the ancient shellac and stain that had traveled with the plane since its birth between 1910 and 1918.
After the final 400 grit sanding I was ready to flip on the buffing wheel. I took this tip directly from Scott Grandaff’s article. The results were amazing. I was shocked at how buffing the Indian rosewood made it gleam. And it’s as smooth to the touch as your high-school sweatheart’s…wait, I’ve overused that analogy Let’s just say it’s very pleasing to the tactilely-aware among us.
I stained the entire tote in a single coat of Minwax Jacobean (another Grandaff tip).
Look closely and you can tell that the wood doesn’t quite match. But that’s the point. In person, you have to look closely. The whole tote, while not perfect, does maintain the same look and feel of the original with-beaver, without-breaks piece.
To protect the stain from vigorous rubbing and sweat during use, I sprayed on two coats of polyurethane finish.
Testing the repair
After remounting the tote, it was time to put the repairs to the test. Wanting to score my best, I put a fresh edge on the iron and vised-up a piece of cherry. One tentative stroke. Another.
Hmm. How does the tote feel? Stroke. Did I shape the beavertail so that it fits inoffensively in the web of my hand? A few more strokes. Uh, the board edge is jointed now.
Now for the big question. Can I use this plane to dimension a lot of wood blister free? Yep. You betcha. After a year of using it, the verdict is in.
Successfully repairing the tote was a rite of passage. It showed me that I could apply a number of never-used woodworking skills to achieve a decent result. And it gave me confidence to take up the challenge again. That opens a dangerous door. Previously, I would avoid used planes with broken totes—which is most of them. But now….God help me.
P.S. A couple of months ago I was jointing some hickory. I took too thick a shaving and the darn beaver tail broke right the heck off. I drilled out the previous epoxy glue holes and glued it back on, but alas, I decided to go with Plan B for the long run. A new tote and knob from Bill Rittner of www.hardwarecitytools.com. Stay tuned.
P.S.S. You’ll note that the photos accompanying this post are…let’s be kind, not exciting. You would have loved the original pics I took to chronicle the process in detail. There were closeups showing every nuance of the process. Yep. It would have been nice to share them with you. But they disappeared from my camera and my life forever. ***sigh***